Adam Kay: I used to hate this time of year but now I’ve changed my tune (to “All I Want For Christmas…”)

Christmas fanatics always seemed slightly disturbed to me, as if they were embracing the festive period in the absence of someone to love. 

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There is something enjoyable about loathing the festive season, isn’t there? A sadistic pleasure, fuelled by your own misery. It’s like having chronic back pain but relishing the fact that it gets you out of doing all those things you don’t want to do: putting up the shelves, spin class, sex.

I spent many years in the Ebenezer Scrooge fan club, kicking off with my seasonal eye-rolling as a teenager. Christmas represented everything I wanted to escape from: these so-called traditions were just (I asserted) another excuse for my parents to control me. No, I don’t want to pull a cracker when you say so. Why on earth should I eat chocolate in the shape of a log just because it’s the 25th of December? Plus, of course, Christmas is so shamelessly uncool – which is not something any teen ever wants to be. Even today, no amount of overaffected styling, tinsel in neutral greys and hygge can ever transform it from the screaming tack-fest it still is.

Christmas fanatics always seemed slightly disturbed to me, as if they were embracing the festive period in the absence of someone to love, or perhaps to bleach out a dark secret from their past, like the murder of a sibling or enjoying Dan Brown novels.

My Grinching accelerated in adulthood. I wonder if it was a subconscious defence mechanism. Working as an obstetrician, I missed out on six of seven family Christmases. Year after year of removing babies (and baubles) from the various places they found themselves lodged, meant that the labour ward became the default setting for my 25th of Decembers, with turkey dinners replaced with low-ranking Quality Streets pinched from the nursing station. Perhaps my brain convinced me this was a good thing, rather than confronting the slightly more depressing reality. Or maybe seeing so much inevitable sadness on the wards at this time of year made any kind of celebration feel inappropriate.

But now my position has done a full 180-degree turn. And in the face of endless articles and think pieces telling us that Christmas is too commercialised, an annual drag foisted upon us by the retail industry, that it comes too early, that its true meaning is diluted beyond recognition, I feel that I must belatedly come to its defence.

I’m not quite sure why I’ve changed my tune (to “All I Want for Christmas…”). It’s probably because the past few years have been such a downer, to say the least. The referendum, the ensuing political chaos, watching Theresa May figuratively soil herself on camera for three years only to see her replaced by Boris Johnson, a ham in a toupee hell-bent on setting the country on fire.

In this current Satanscape, is it any wonder that I’ve reached for the relative safety of eggnog and benign seasonal movies? Why shouldn’t we check out of our manic lives and insulate ourselves in a new routine for a week or so? One that involves cocktails at 11am, eating an entire airport-sized Toblerone “just because” and bitching to friends about our terrible haul of presents. (Please stop buying me shirts from shops I haven’t set foot in since I was 13, thank you. Also, I have no idea what to do with a gift card for Paperchase other than buy you a gift card back.) OK, maybe I haven’t totally shaken my old approach.

Christmas is an excuse to relieve yourself of your responsibilities for a short while – harking back to the good old days, but without reversing civil rights or dying of consumption at the age of 30. When else are you encouraged to go ice skating and be absolutely awful at it? This year my Christmas tree went up within minutes of the Halloween pumpkin going into the food-waste bin. Why would I wait any longer before putting something so beautiful in the corner of my living room?

The worst music ever invented somehow becomes endearing. People give you free stuff just because the calendar says they should. You can walk around in an ugly Christmas jumper and it will elicit joy from people rather than low mutterings that you should be sectioned. And did I mention cocktails at 10am? Sorry, I know I said 11am earlier, but it’s 10 o’clock now. Why? Because it’s Christmas!

If you hate the commercial or religious aspects, ignore them altogether. It is perfectly possible to have a fantastic Christmas without plunging into credit-card debt rivalling the GDP of a superpower – although I do say this as a childless man. Agree on a “no presents” rule, focus instead on the spectacle of it. The tree! The food! The inevitable Christmas Day murder in EastEnders! The 9am cocktails!

The world we live in today has too many dark corners where misery can hide. We should be shining our brightest fairy lights and ringing our loudest sleigh bells right into them. See you for cocktails – 8am sharp.

Adam Kay is a former doctor. His latest book is “Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas” (Picador)

This article appears in the 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special